Gang violence has outreach workers ‘all hands on deck’

Former cop says there are not enough funds to address the problem

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) – The steep rise in Portland’s gang violence came to a head Tuesday night when a five-year-old was hit by an errant bullet.

Portland Police Bureau officials are calling the shooting, at the Laurel Place Apartments in the 12500 block of Powell Boulevard in Southeast, a “gang-related incident.”

Portland’s Youth Violence Prevention Program director Antoinette Edwards.
Portland’s Youth Violence Prevention Program director Antoinette Edwards.

Several initiatives through the city of Portland’s Youth Violence Prevention Program are underway to assuage what outreach worker and YVPP director Antoinette Edwards calls the worst year since 2001.

Yet, one former police officer said city grant money, although used wisely, does not cover the cost of reaching all the people involved in gangs who need help.

“So we have to support those populations to be able to leverage a change so the dollars that are coming to us to be able to fund these programs can not only be on the law enforcement side,” said former Portland Police Bureau officer and gang prevention worker Tom Peavey.

“They have to be on the health related side.”

He said the health-related side of gang violence needs to be addressed if the problem is to be solved.

“It’s an ongoing cycle of sadness and sorrow and we all really have that ‘all-hands-on-deck’ to try to connect what’s going on,” she said. Edwards said workers know the escalated activity is about retaliateion between rival gangs.

Still, she said gang activity is not as bad as it was during Portland’s heyday 20 years ago.

‘Snitches get stitches’ mentality

Former Portland Police Bureau officer and current gang prevention worker Tom Peavey.
Former Portland Police Bureau officer and current gang prevention worker Tom Peavey.

Edwards said one significant challenge is witnesses not coming forward to identify gang shooters.

As a response, the organization launched the “Enough is Enough” campaign to protect witnesses who do come forward with information about gang shootings.

Outreach workers said the rise in gang activity of late is apparent.

Gang-related shootings in Portland have grown increasingly common in 2014. Portland Police Bureau data shows through June 24, 66 shootings within Portland were linked to gangs, up 40% from the same time in 2013.

“What we’ve got to change is that crazy thought process,” said Edwards.

She said the cultural aversion to “snitching” means people don’t come forward. “What is happening is a few bullies have us all held hostage.”

In order to rein the problem in, the public will have to adopt a similar attitude to gang violence as enforcing seatbelts and cigarette use, Peavey said.

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